AUGUSTA — Since moving to Class A four years ago, the Erskine Academy boys basketball team has taken its lumps. Wednesday night, it all seemed worthwhile.

The Eagles earned their first trip to the Class A tournament with a 62-55 victory against Cony in an Eastern Maine prelim matchup. No. 9 Erskine (8-11) advances to play top-seeded Hampden on Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Cony finishes at 7-11.

“In the last two years we’ve only won three games,” Erskine senior guard Tom Grady said. “This year we really buckled down and set a goal to get to the Civic Center.”

Grady scored a game-high 22 points while junior guard Devin Duncan added 19.

“We were both just feeling it, I guess,” Grady said. “Before the game we were both practicing our 3-pointers and we wanted to connect in the game, too.”

Grady had a pair of 3-pointers while Duncan connected for three and also went 6 of 6 from the foul line late in the fourth quarter. The teams split their regular-season series, each winning on their home court and fans from both communities packed the Cony gym Wednesday night.

“The gym was loud,” Grady said.

The Rams trailed most of the game but caught the Eagles early in the fourth quarter when junior guard Chandler Shostak hit a three from the left side to make it 45-44. Shostak, who scored 12 points, later put home a rebound to give the Rams second lead with just under five minutes left but it was the last lead Cony would hold.

Layups from Shyler Scates, Grady and Ryan Pulver pushed Erskine’s lead to 56-49. The Rams cut the lead to three (56-53) and had the ball with 1 minute, 2 seconds left, but turned it over and the Eagles put the game away from the line.

“I can’t say enough good things about the kids in that locker room,” Erskine coach Ben Willoughby said. “They suffered and endured through some tough seasons, overmatched size-wise, overmatched talent-wise. They really stepped up this year and believed that they can win big games.”

The teams played just last week with Cony winning 50-48. In that one, Rams senior Walker Cooper scored 27 points. Wednesday, the Eagles use a combination of Ryan Pulver and Damon Bailey on Cooper and held him to 18 points, 12 of those coming from the foul line.

“Our strategy was to just try to make him take the toughest shots possible,” Willoughby said. “We wanted to shadow him coming off screens. What we didn’t want to do was foul as much as we did tonight.”

Josiah Hayward finished with 14 points for the Rams, including a key three-point play that made it 56-52 with 1:16 left to play. But Cony’s play wasn’t enough to overshadow that of the Erskine guards.

“Forty-one points tonight by the two guards,” Cony coach Tim Bonsant said. “They hit shot after shot and we went cold and that’s the game. They’ve been waiting for this for three years and they’re finally here. They’re going to the Civic Center and we’re not.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638
[email protected]

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